The Asian Football Countdown to 2012: Saudi Arabia

In the fifth installment of our round-up of the year in Asian football, travels west to review the trials and tribulations of Saudi Arabia in 2011
Mohammed Jalal

2011 was a disappointing one for Saudi Arabia, as they failed to make progress in any major competitions. However, the performance of the younger stars in the Youth World Cup as well as the advancement of Al-Ittihad to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League gave football fans in the Kingdom something to smile about.


This year was a disappointing one for the Saudi national team on all levels. Things got off to a bad start in January's Asia Cup in Qatar, in which Saudi Arabia scored just one goal and surrendered eight on the way to a winless exit from the group stage. It was only the second time that the side have failed to advance to the knockout stage after reaching the tournament.

The rest of the year has not gone well either, putting the Kingdom's chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in danger. Any result but an away win against Australia in January will see the Saudis eliminated from qualifying for the second time in a row.

In October, Saudi Arabia's Fifa ranking fell to a record-low 98th, but has since risen to 96th.


Al Hilal set out to retain all of the titles they won in 2011, winning the Saudi Premier League by brilliantly going undefeated throughout the entire 26 matches.

The Crown Prince Cup was no different; Al Hilal secured their fourth championship in a row, surpassing Al Nassr in the semi-finals before easily beating Al-Wehda in the final 5-0.

In the finale to the Kingdom's footballing year, Al Ahli won the Saudi King Cup of Champions after defeating Al-Ittihad in penalties at the end of a goalless game.

In the Asian Champions League, Al-Ittihad reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual runners-up Jeonbuk Motors in both legs.


Former Al Shabab and Al Raed player Naji Majershi returned to Saudi Arabia after a short stint in South Korea with Ulsan Hyundai. His stay was not so successful, as he returned to his home country after just six months with the K-League side.

2007 AFC Player of the Year Yasser Al-Qahtani was loaned to the UAE's Al Ein in a one-year deal worth €3 million.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Nasser Al-Shamrani, Al-Shabab & national team

While there may not have been no true star player for Saudi Arabia in 2011, considering their dismal international results, the best was clearly Nasser Al-Shamrani, who was the top scorer in the league for a third straight year.

In a sign of ambivalence over their year in footballing, Saudi National TV awarded their Player of the Season award to Al-Hilal goalkeeper Hasan Al Outabi, who did not play internationally in 2011.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR | Saudi youth team marches on in Colombia

Placed in Group D with Nigeria, Guatemala, and Croatia, Saudi Arabia's Under-20 team advanced to the second round by placing second with two wins (including a 6-0 thrashing of Guatemala) and one loss. Though they would bow out in the round of 16 to eventual tournament champions Brazil, the results were clearly a success for the Saudi youth system.

After an underwhelming 2011, next year will be a year of lowered expectations for Saudi Arabia. The men's national team needs a win against Group D powerhouse Australia in order to advance to the final round of qualifying; a sure disappointment for fans who are used to their country breezing through early qualifying rounds.

With no Saudi players currently active abroad, fans hope that the players will find the good form that eluded them in 2011; sending younger players abroad to Europe will also be a high priority for the country if they hope to stay competitive on the international stage.

Domestically, there is also still hope for glory, with three teams automatically qualfying for the 2012 ACL group stage. Clubs participating in the tournament are all surely dreaming of a chance to become the first Saudi team since Al-Ittihad in 2005 to win the competition and qualify for the Club World Cup.

Check out other countries in the countdown: Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia

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